N.K. Clark There is a growing epidemic in America concerning the treatment of noncustodial parents when dealing with child support enforcement agencies and the family court system. Unfortunately, there are no federal agencies that conduct investigations into complaints filed against local agencies by parents with any type of grievance. Although there are parents that may have problems with their local agencies, parents are forced to remedy their complaints. Parents must be sure that employees of state agencies are held accountable as they deal with the public. As public servants, tax dollars pay their salaries and parents’ rights should be respected especially during such sensitive situations. There are two child support agencies in particular that have proven to be ineffective when dealing with parents and complaints. The first county with a horrible process in dealing with child support complaints is Bay County, Michigan. In this county, just like many others, there is no lenience granted to parents that regularly make payments and for whatever reason, miss a couple during the course. In Michigan, complaints must be filed through the Friend of the Court. The Bay County, Michigan agency is a direct agency of the 18th Judicial Circuit Family Division. According to the Michigan Friend of the Court (FOC) Information Handbook, the FOC Act provides a grievance procedure for complaints about the FOC operations and employees. This can only mean that the grievances are handled by the coworkers and supervisors of the people named in the complaints. There can be no serious resolution when the police are policing the police. Since most complaints will involve court decisions concerning custody or child support, an effective system must be in place to overturn those polices that are proven problematic to the complaint filer. The complaint process can be quite tedious as those with objections must interact with the agency at the butt of the action. The parents with complaints will find themselves facing other obstacles when dealing with the Bay County, Michigan child support agency. A grievance cannot be used to object to a FOC recommendation, or to disagree with the decision of the judge. This barrier in the complaint process is only an added disappointment to parents in need of justice, perpetuates any unfair treatment, and leaves employees free of punishment for any unethical or illegal actions. Since the FOC does not accept any grievance concerning court orders, they only advise that the complainant discuss legal options with an attorney. This option will, more than likely, be time consuming and costly. There is information provided in the handbook about filing complaints against Bay City judges. However, these complaints are handled by the Judicial Tenure Commission but this group can do nothing about changing a court order. Based on all of this information, one really has no operative way of filing a complaint and receiving an unbiased result when unhappy with the child support agency. The next county is a located in the bordering state of Ohio. Franklin County is not only where the reformed child support system was piloted in the 1990s courtesy of Former President Bill Clinton, it too offers no adequate complaint procedures for anguished parents. While Bay County had an ineffective complaint process in place, it at least offered some sort of remedy process. In Franklin County, as soon as a problem is expressed by a parent, the run-around is started by the agency and the court employees. After an exhaustive two hour online search and emails to agency employees in regards to the complaint process, there have been no answers offered to date. When searching the Attorney General website, the complaint listing includes information for Medicaid fraud, complaining against charitable organizations, and even a link to filing a complaint against organizations that offer bingo games. There is, however, no complaint link to an agency that reportedly serves more than 3.3 million people, including 1.3 million children (Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, 2013). This is just evidence of the lack of concern that the state has for the parents that they are supposed to service. Effective complaint systems must be in place when an agency, and more importantly, individuals have to power to decide the fate of millions of people. Child support enforcement employees can decide garnishment amounts, permissions to drive and fish, and if one is free or locked away. With such authority, there must be control, transparency, and a plan for complainants when boundaries are stretched and broken at someone else’s expense. Citizens, who happen to be parents, must know that there are regulations and policies in place that protect them against people and procedures that may be abusive to our rights. As been the case for many years, the government (local, state, and federal) err too. Taxpayers can take a look at Congress and find several instances where people have abused their power and were forced to answer to a higher office for their blunders. There must be strong rules in place for people that have complaints to guarantee that we are heard and that solutions are obtainable. When dealing with such a flawed system like the child support agencies, attention must be paid when operations are failing the customers and only benefiting the government. References: Michigan Supreme Court. (2013). Friend of the Court Handbook. Retrieved from http://courts.mi.gov/administration/scao/resources/documents/publications/manuals/focb/focb_h bk.pdf Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. (2013, February 27). Executive Budget Recommendations for SFY 2014-2015. Retrieved from http://www.gongwer-oh.com/public/130/JFSTestimony-Colbert.pdf
The double standard of statutory rape laws and child support is one that needs to be addressed. Our society has an undeniable duty to protect our young and vulnerable from sexual assaults regardless of the gender of the victim. This protection has become nonexistent as it relates to male molestation and rape victims and the child support system. Almost immediately after the reinvention of the child support system, male victims of sexual assault have had their rights to protection from their rapists converted into forced child support payments to be paid to their attackers. The inequality between male and female rape victims is unambiguous and must be abolished to ensure the well-being of these rape victims. The victim list of male vs. female is not the only unequal aspect in the reports of sexual assault. The inequalities present themselves when child support enforcement becomes involved in the situation. There are provisions in place to protect female victims of sexual assault resulting in conception and birth. Those same conditions are ignored when the victim is a boy at the time of conception and child support becomes involved in public assistance cases. There are always complaints being launched in reference to the inequalities that women face while trying to function in a male dominated system. Disparities exist in pay scales, employment opportunities, and until recently, certain military positions and units. Women are breaking glass ceilings and kicking down doors to equal opportunities while certain systems continue to practice policies that are geared only to protect the rights and safety of women. Statutory rape laws assume that all sexual activities with individuals below a certain age are coercive (United State Department of Health and Human Services). When pregnancy is the result of statutory rape, these young boys are somehow held responsible for child support payments. In the case of the 13 year old that was raped by a 17 year old, the obvious unfairness is evident. In 1993, the Supreme Court of Kansas found the issue of consent to sexual activity under the criminal statutes is irrelevant in a civil action to determine paternity and for support (Justia US Law, 1993). Kansas contradicts its own laws where child support and failure to cooperate are concerned. Although the law is not gender specific, it is plain on how it relates to births that are results of rape. According to Kansas.gov (2014), good cause for failure to cooperate must relate to one of the following criteria: the child was conceived as a result of incest or rape. The ‘good cause’ clause is of no benefit to boy victims who have been violated. They are still expected to pay. Another early case of such rape and child support defilement occurred in California during a 1996 ruling. The 15 year old victim was too young to consent to sex but that was no deterrent for the California Appellate court in relation to his being forced to pay child support. According to Walter Romans from A Voice of Men (2010), the court found that the boy was an admitted willing participant and therefore liable to pay child support. The rapist, a 34 year old woman and predator, was not prosecuted but instead is being paid for her crime by her prey. The law differs greatly when a woman is the victim of pregnancy that results in birth when a victim of sexual assault. There are several options that make them exempt from forced to participate in mandated child support programs. A mother can ‘opt out’ of the child support program when applying for welfare benefits with penalty if certain criterion is met during the application process. According to Aviva Nusbaum of the Fordham Law Review (2013), The California Welfare and Institution Code enumerates seven circumstances where good cause exists, including when a child is conceived during rape. Those same provisions are not considered when male rape victims are the target of child support complaints and forced compliance. There are no amount of ways that a man can refuse to provide financially for his attacker or a child that was a product of rape. The only choice that these men have is to fight a gender biased child support system. History has proven that they are not victors when fighting the child support court system. Over the years, child support laws against men have become more stringent while laws protecting victims who have become fathers while minors has remained unrevised and unfair. Supporters of women victims of sexual abuse are adamant on the long term negative effects that sexual assault has on female victims. In fact, it has been reported that any contact that a victim has with their rapists can be traumatizing, (Nusbaum, 2013). Such harmful repercussions are never considered when the rape victim is an adolescent boy. There are cases in Kentucky and Colorado where both teens were under the age of 14 and were both ordered to pay child support once they reached adulthood. According to Romans (2010), in Kentucky, a prosecutor stated that would help a woman collect child support from a man who was only 14 at the time she raped him. There was no consideration of the harm that may have been inflicted upon him when he was forced to interact with his attacker. The purpose for the cold and callous interaction is, with no doubt, money because this is the basis of the child support collection agency. The fact that any meeting could have caused these victims post trauma was not even a factor in the pursuit of a payday for the sexual predator. Even though rape is an offense that can result in a prison sentence in Kentucky and every other state, the possibility of jail was not even presented for this female perpetrator. The prosecutor neglected to charge the woman with statutory rape (Romans, 2010). There are more cases of men being held financially responsible for children created from artificial insemination, surrogacy, or nonconsensual sex in adulthood, but it is even more disgusting when a preteen and teenagers are forced into the burden of child support obligations. These nonconsensual fathers are also burdened with all of the enforcements that are married to child support guidelines and punishments. There are horrific stories explaining how men, unable to afford child support payments and arrears, have found themselves homeless, indigent, and incarcerated because of child support debt. It is all too common practice to have bank accounts seized and wages garnished when the noncustodial parent actually consented to fathering a child. The injustice of these aggressive collection practices magnifies when considering those drastic actions taken against a minor male or female. Most recently, a man was hit with back child support for a child he didn’t know existed and was conceived while he was too young to consent. According to Amy Himmelberg of the Kansas First News (2014), Nick Olivas, found out two years ago when he was served with legal papers that he had fathered a daughter at age 14. His attacker, was 20 at the time and faces no charges for the rape. The failure to file charges against this rapist, while still a minor, should not mean that victims should be held accountable for child support obligations. If this young man had been a female, he would have been forgiven all mandated child support participation based on an exemption in Title 46 of the Arizona Revised Statutes. Men, who have fathered a child before the age of consent, should be granted the exact exemptions that women enjoy in regards to child support involvement. The double standard should not be permitted to continue moving forward as new men are identified as fathers based on rape. Male victims deserve the same protections as their female counterparts. Further emotional trauma may be experienced by being forced to communicate with their attackers. More trauma is experienced when these boy victims are forced to pay money to the people that should have exercised the restraint of an adult dealing with underage people in sexual situations. The courts attempt to justify this injustice by attributing the enforcement as being in the best interest of the child. This is hypocritical considering there is no one protecting the best interest of these fathers who were sexually violated as children. By forcing child support punishments, the assaulted prey is being violated repeatedly by their predator. It is time to make the court accountable for protecting the true victims in cases like the ones in Arizona, California, Kentucky, etc, by prosecuting these mothers with the same vigor that it uses to hunt and prosecute the fathers. The adults in these cases are responsible for the results of their actions and must pay for their crime. The same standards that are applied to female rape victims need to be applied to male rape victims. Traumatizing these damaged young men by making them pay their rapists constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Of course, the child support system is not celebrated for its constitutional or moral integrity. We must reform the child support system in America as it relates to both consenting fathers as well as fathers who were made parents before they were old enough to legally consent to such a huge responsibility. References: American Bar Association. (n.d.). State Legislators' Handbook for Statutory Rape Issues Retrieved from http://ojp.gov/ovc/publications/infores/statutoryrape/handbook/issu.html Aviva Nusbaum, The High Cost of Child Support in Rape Cases: Finding an Evidentiary Standard To Protect Mother and Child from Welfare’s Cooperation Requirement, 82 Fordham L. Rev. 1331 (2013). Higdon, M. J. (2011). Fatherhood by Conscription: Nonconsensual Insemination and the Duty of Child Support (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://ssrn.com/abstract=1761333 Himmelberg, A. (2014, September 6). Arizona rape victim ordered to pay child support Kansas First News. Retrieved from http://kansasfirstnews.com/2014/09/06/arizona-rape-victim-order-to pay-child-support/ Justia US Law. (1993). State Ex Rel. Hermesmann v. Seyer :: 1993 :: Kansas Supreme Court Decisions :: Kansas Case Law :: US Case Law :: US Law Justia (67,978). Retrieved from Supreme Court of Kansas website: http://law.justia.com/cases/kansas/supreme-court/1993/67-978-3.html Kansas Economic and Employment Services. (2014, August). 2162 Good Cause for Failure nto Cooperate. Retrieved from http://content.dcf.ks.gov/ees/KEESM/current/keesm2162.htm LaPeter Anton, L. (2011, July 30). He says he said no to sex, now says no to child support Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved from http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/he-says-he-said-no-to-sex-now-says-no-to-child-support/1183449 Romans, W. (2010, October 4). Legally obscene: Rape, statutory rape, and child support. Retrieved fromhttp://www.avoiceformen.com/feminism/feminist-governance-feminism/legally-obscene/ U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Statutory Rape: A Guide to State Laws and Reporting Requirements: Main Page. Retrieved from http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/08/sr/statelaws/ Aviva Nusbaum, The High Cost of Child Support in Rape Cases: Finding an Evidentiary Standard To Protect Mother and Child from Welfare’s Cooperation Requirement, 82 Fordham L. Rev. 1331 (2013).
In modern day society, child support has become almost automatic when a baby is born to unmarried parents. In both unwed and divorce cases, child support seems to be a mandate rather than an option. Unless a person receives any public assistance, the enrollment into the child support system is voluntary. Parents should consider avoiding child support altogether when deciding what is in the best interest of the children. One reason that avoidance of the child support system is a better option is that the money paid from one parent to the other will be received in full. As the current system maintains federally mandated caseloads and performance measurements, the system attaches fees for all of its functions. These fees are collected before any money is paid out to the family. This is a perfect example of trickle-down economics and how it fails the less fortunate as they strive for self sufficiency and financial security.
For example, most states charge $25 annually as a maintenance fee. The maintenance fee may seem minimal to most but more fees apply for all cases no matter the TANF status. In Georgia, the Office of Child Support is authorized to establish and collect a fee of $100 for review and modification of a support order, (State of Georgia Government). This offers a great profit for the state when modifications are needed to reflect current and accurate income. The Office of Child Support Enforcement Agency, or OCSE, (2013) wrote in the FY 2012 Preliminary report that Georgia had 195,261 cases on families that had never received assistance. If every parent were to request a review or modification to their case, Georgia would stand to collect $19,526,100 in total profit. This money could and would be better spent on the children. Unfortunately, this money will be retained by the state and the children will receive nothing.
Although many states boast of their amnesty programs to assist with modifications and helping parents decrease arrears, there are not many examples of successful outcomes for these programs. The criteria that these amnesty programs require are strict and lengthy while child support arrears still grow. Programs such as these make any significant relief to child support debt nearly impossible which is the same outcome when requesting a modification. There is no guarantee that the modification will be granted once a review a request has been submitted. Another important reason and perhaps the most important of all, for ‘opting out’ of the child support system is to possibly avoid further friction between parents created by child support involvement. Child support will pursue anyone that violates the laws governed by the broad and stringent child support guidelines. Parents should strongly consider the long term affect of signing up for child support programs as it is easy to enroll into the program, but very difficult to leave.
The guidelines that are supposed to be followed are set by both the federal and state governments. There is often no relief granted to low-income or disabled parents when they cannot meet full child support obligations. The Office of the Inspector General (2007) acknowledged that the policies that are used in most states do not usually generate child support by low-income noncustodial parents. With the high levels of government agencies indentifying that specific measures do not generate collections, the pursuit of these parents only leaves to increased and unpaid debt. Children will never receive the money because most of arrears that are accumulated are owed to the state for late fees and interest. The most beneficial way that parents can provide for their children is to rely on each other to support their children. If, and only if, there is no possibility of support from the other parent should government action be initiated. The government strongly suggests that the program is in operation only for the best interest of the child, however, the government is earning and keeping so much money, the cash can never directly benefit those same children.
The Massachusetts Department of Revenue and Child Support Enforcement Division (2011), lists the following as collection remedies property for delinquent child support and arrears:
In the event that parents decide to work together independent from the courts, it may be too late. If a parent misses a payment for any reason, the penalties and interest begin to accumulate. Over a relatively short amount of time, the state can be the owner of the child support debt. This means that any money collected from any source, including the ones previously listed, will be retained by the state.
Based on the short list of the evidence listed in this article, parents should avoid the child support system when at all possible. The legislators insist that parents be held financially accountable for their children but take the money away from those same children. Short term solutions may not be the best answers for long-term goals. Consider the future when applying for child support enforcement services. The system needs to be forced to operate in the manner that it is supposed to operate. The mission of the child support agencies was initially to pursue and prosecute men that ‘willfully’ failed to pay support. Currently it operates as a debt collection agency with more freedom to prosecute anyone that falls into debt. The law is clear on who should be convicted but the agencies have scripted its own laws. It acts more as a thief in the night rather than a respectable government agency whose sole purpose is supposed to be protecting the children. Money that rightfully belongs to you and your child may become states property with little or no recourse for either parent to recover the money.
Georgia Department of Human Services. (n.d.). Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) Fees | Division of Child Support Services. Retrieved April 4, 2014, from http://dcss.dhs.georgia.gov/division-child-support-services-dcss-fees
Gibbs Brown, J. (2000, September). The Establishment of Child Support Orders on Low-Income Non-Custodial Parents. Retrieved from https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-05-99-00390.pdf
Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2013, September 1). FY2012 Preliminary Report - State Box Scores | Office of Child Support Enforcement | Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/resource/fy2012-preliminary-report-state-box-scores#GA-GU
N.K. Clark As more and more noncustodial parents a labeled ‘deadbeats’ and are, in many ways, treated as felonious criminals, there needs to be action to prevent these personal and financial attacks. There has been programs on the books, initiated by the government, that are supposed to assist noncustodial parents as they face barriers that prohibit meeting child support obligations. In 2012, President Obama’s administration issued state waivers that linked unemployed noncustodial parents (usually fathers) to work-oriented services such as job training and job search assistance. Because of the recent and steady ‘deadbeat’ roundups, it seems that the employment opportunities promised by the government are consistently failing the noncustodial parents of America. There are several millions of dollars that have been allocated in grant money to states that are supposed to initiate jobs programs but it doesn’t seem that the states received the memo. According to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, numerous studies in several states have shown that employment-oriented programs for low-income noncustodial parents increase child support payments. Based on this information, it is difficult to understand why the federal and state governments do not implement more employment programs. The obvious answer is that there would be a decrease in the revenues generated by child support related arrests when these parents could be referred to jobs programs. The media outlets consistently report about deadbeat round ups across the country, but fail to publicize the grant money and employment programs that are supposed to assist low-income noncustodial parents. It only seems fair that reporters should advertise the available programs that could possibly increase child support payments along with the amount of money a parent owes in arrears. A perfect of example of the double standard associated with child support arrests and the failure to mention jobs programs was written in June of this year. Anthony Bellano of the Princeton Patch (2014), reported that a three-day Child Support Sweep resulted in the arrest of 118 people who had a total of 166 outstanding warrants for unpaid child support. The article continues with times and sheriff names but fails to include other important information that could be useful to parents living in that particular county. Mercer County, New Jersey offers a program called Operation Fatherhood. Operation Fatherhood serves the fathers of Mercer County through parenting classes, job readiness and other programs. This program information is not found by performing a simple Google search like the articles related to mass arrests. This information is buried in statistical reports and government official webpages and any other place that may be difficult for nonpublic officials to discover. California is another state that relishes in the public humiliation of parents who fall behind on child support payments. The LA County, California Office of Child Support has a front page spread with pictures and personal information of delinquent parents. The law is clear on the Most Wanted List and says that a parent who is able to pay child support, and without lawful excuses, fails to do so, may be guilty, (LACSEA). There is a section of the child support program that is hidden nor is it written in bold and exciting colors and letters that explains a jobs programs offered by LA County. If there were such a section, it would explain the partnership between the LACSEA and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) that is attempting to help parents find and maintain employment. One main objective is to have individualized child support services, (OSCE, 2014). This is especially important as hurdles are recognized and solutions are specific to the parent and not executed based on a one-law-fits-all model when analyzing unique situations. The advertisements for the WIA programs should be as heavily promoted as the most wanted posters that flood TV, radio, billboards, and webpages. Currently, there are four WorkSource Centers in Los Angeles and the Child Support Division provides on-site services at each, (OCSE, 2014). Considering past studies that have concluded the importance of such programs, more money should be spent on the expansion of employment programs instead of being wasted on ‘deadbeat’ roundups and costs associated with incarceration. The federal government provides grant money to states in an attempt to assist with unemployment and the decreasing of child support arrears. In FY2012, the OSCE awarded nearly $6.2 million to child support agencies in eight states to link parents with employment service, (OSCE, 2014). These types of grants seem to be hidden from the general public and therefore may be underutilized is a recognized barrier for low-income parents. Even though unemployment is a recognized obstacle for low-income parents, there are always arrest and stricter penalties awaiting enactment by the government. It is time to force the federal and state government to provide adequate resources for low-income parents. The $6.2 million allocated in 2012 is, obviously, inadequate when dealing with poverty among children and families. Perhaps the $558,799,851 in undistributed child support collections reported in 2011 could have helped with employment programs and opportunities across the country. It is not lawful for officials to demand child support payments from low-income and unemployed parents (while charging exaggerated fees) when it is apparent that without employment programs, this goal is nearly impossible. It is a must that money spent for hunting and arresting low-income parents be better utilized across the nation. The eight states that initially received the grant money for job programs should multiply to fifty as soon as possible. The programs and the money need to be used to uplift children and families out of poverty. References: Bellono, A. (2014, July 21). Mercer County Arrests State-High 111 During Child Support Sweep - Police & Fire | Princeton, New Jersey Patch. Retrieved from http://patch.com/new-jersey/princeton/mercer-county-arrests-statehigh-111-during-child-support-sweep
L.A. County Child Support Services Department. (n.d.). Most Wanted List. Retrieved September 2, 2014, from http://file.lacounty.gov/cssd/cms1_153347.pdf
Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2011, June 11). Economic Stability | Office of Child Support Enforcement | Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.go v/programs/css/resource/economic-stability
Office of Child Support Enforcement. (n.d.). State Child Support Offices to Lead $6.2 Million Employment Project | Office of Child Support Enforcement | Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved fromhttp://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/state-child-support-offices-to-lead-62-million-employment-project